It’s 2014. A team in red has struggled to impose itself against a southern rival in an IPL encounter and are seemingly on the verge of another infamous collapse. They have, despite the stellar star cast at their disposal, flattered to deceive again, meaning that the murmurs of discontent are transforming into clamours.
The crowd is busy nitpicking everything that went wrong – right from the auction when they left themselves with too little middle-order batting and death bowling, to a crucial toss they lost.
They have even criticized the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, suggesting that bowling machines should replace bowlers because, well, the playing surface bears more resemblance to the Bengaluru-Mysore expressway than a cricket pitch.
In short, they’ve lost all hope and are wondering what could’ve been, especially if a few factors had fallen into place. Just as they begin contemplating trudging towards the exits, a massive roar erupts at the venue.
At first, the fans are tempted to think that their beloved Royal Challengers Bangalore has turned a corner against the Sunrisers Hyderabad. And that RCB is suddenly trading blows after acting as SRH's sparring partner in a heavyweight bout. Nothing of that sort is happening, though. RCB are still down in the dumps. They require 28 off the last two overs.
The only difference, though, is that cricket’s Superman aka AB de Villiers has waltzed out to the centre. The situation is dire. It is, to an extent, even irredeemable. But there is still hope – hope that is purely fueled by De Villiers’ brilliance.
The batter takes guard, soaks in the applause, the pressure and of course, the expectations at the ground. He tries to make sense of why people are still hopeful of a turnaround. Someone from the crowd blares out – “We love you AB, please take us to victory”.
For a moment, De Villiers thinks he is batting in Pretoria (his hometown), with possibly a World Cup final at stake. He isn’t though. This is a slightly different cauldron, but a cauldron that he has been able to call home over the past decade.
And then everyone collectively takes in a breath. There has been enough time for both the batter and the crowd to prepare themselves for what lies in store. For better or for worse.
De Villiers hopes he can pull a victory out of the fire. The crowd longs for something nostalgic about 10 years down the line. Dale Steyn – the bowler who marks out his run-up for the 19th over, asks himself – “what’s the worst that can happen”?
It goes horribly wrong for Steyn though. Not because he wasn’t at his best. But because De Villiers was just better. The contest in question is between arguably the greatest fast bowler in the 21st century and the most dexterous batter ever. Cricketing wisdom says that there shouldn’t be a clear winner.
Yet, there is. And that is exactly where De Villiers’ greatness lies. In fact, the assault was so extraordinary that Steyn, who conceded 24 runs and the game to RCB, was left applauding what De Villiers had done - in the middle of a high-octane clash.
Remember, there were shots all around the dial. Laser-sharp hits into the sightscreen, perfectly lofted off-drives, the good-ol’ mow over cow corner and a sweep into the third tier – shots that people can only dream of attempting against Steyn, let alone nailing them.
The crowd prepare to leave and embrace their normal lives. They know tomorrow will again be monotonous – much like it has been over the years. This time, though, they can boast that they were part of something special – something that might not be replicated. Ever.
The best part about De Villiers, however, was that he conjured such magic on a regular basis. For others, this was the glorious aberration they often craved. For De Villiers, this was just another day at the office – success that was loved even more because he left every ounce of effort on the field but rarely let it affect his demeanor off it.
Has anyone ever seen De Villiers walk around after the game without a smile on his face? There were tears of disappointment and anguish when the job was not completed. But never an indication that the frustration had boiled over.
To speak about what De Villiers offered when at the peak of his powers would be redundant because, well, the whole world knows about it. The cricketing community, in fact, has been on the wrong end of it quite a few times too.
The more telling bit, especially as De Villiers walks into the sunset, revolves around how he could be so special yet so normal. He could be just another one of us but also possess abilities that mere mortals can’t even imagine in their wildest dreams.
AB de Villiers has a huge fan following across the globe
From that perspective, it is quite revealing that De Villiers has as much of a fan base in India (across the globe too) as he does back in South Africa. His stint at RCB and the Delhi Capitals (Delhi Daredevils previously) has contributed majorly but his fandom has even rivalled the likes of MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli. And that’s saying something.
Moreover, his propensity to literally do anything and everything his team demanded, endeared him to the fans more.
One day, De Villiers was busy pummeling the West Indies en route to the fastest ever ODI hundred. On another instance, he was clattering the Caribbean outfit to all parts at the SCG – this time going on to hit the fastest ever 150 in World Cup cricket. And, on another occasion, he was willing to graft for 354 minutes (at Delhi) to save a Test against India.
Then, during the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, when South Africa were furiously rummaging for a sixth bowling option, De Villiers manned those duties as well. He performed decently too, considering he has spent a large chunk of his career as a wicket-keeper.
Speaking of wicket-keeping, he was never too averse to don the gloves, especially if it allowed his team greater balance. When not wearing the gloves, he was perhaps one of the best fielders the sport has ever seen. They nicknamed him Superman for his pyrotechnics with the bat. But mind you, De Villiers could fly too.
The list is pretty comprehensive in that regard – something that adds to the legend of De Villiers and illustrates why there might not be many cricketers of a similar ilk.
De Villiers, like countless cricketers before him, might harbor a few cricketing regrets. That is understandable too. As his career winds down, he leaves without a major international trophy or an IPL title – accolades that might not define how he fared as a cricketer but achievements he would’ve given an arm and a leg for.
Because, let’s face it. De Villiers has always put his team above his personal goals, meaning that despite the individual honors he garnered, he might still be left with a feeling of what could’ve been, especially considering he played for two power-packed teams in RCB and South Africa.
That, though, shouldn’t shape De Villiers’ legacy in any way. He was and perhaps will remain someone who could literally do anything on the cricket field. He could pluck catches out of obscurity, bludgeon bowlers into submission, glide like a gazelle, be the modern-day version of Rahul Dravid and even function as an all-rounder intermittently.
Rewind to 2014. And, it becomes clear that he allowed people to hope even in hopeless situations. With De Villiers around, the exits at the stadium always seemed farther than they should have. At times, there was absolutely no reason to stick around.
Also ReadArticle Continues below
Yet, you did. Massive roars of appreciation and many more gob-smacked and awe-induced reactions later, you knew it was worth it too!